Before their gig at The Hare and Hounds on Friday 5th March, Pete Philipson from Manchester psychedelic folk group Starless & Bible Black spoke to Charlotte Payne on behalf of Blue Whale Studios’ Blog.
Where does the name Starless & Bible Black come from?
“When Raz and I were first talking about putting together a band with Helene we were listening to Stan Tracey’s amazing piece called ‘Starless & Bible Black’, so instead of discussing band names for weeks we thought that’ll do. We knew of the King Crimson album that was released later but that wasn’t the influence at all – I actually think it’s a pretty poor record compared with others like In the Court of the Crimson King and Red. But saying all that the phrase “starless and bible black” originates from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood where it appears in the first sentence – Tracey and Crimson nabbed it from there!”
Having performed with the likes of Vetiver, The Earlies, Espers and Alasdair Roberts is there anyone you would particularly like to work with in the future, and why?
“Mostly our friends such as David A. Jaycock and Dan Haywood. It would also be great to work with Mark Hollis but I’m not sure where he is these days.”
Apparently your latest album Shape of the Shape was recorded in a village hall in the midst of the Snowdonian Mountains? Is this setting reflected in the sound as you seem to have moved on since your debut?
“Not quite true – we recorded most of the album over four days at a studio in Snowdonia with David Wrench and then did the overdubs in several all night sessions at a village hall near Dunham Massey, just outside of Manchester. But you’re right in that we did go to soak up some of the isolation and landscape – we had almost every type of weather imaginable in those four days. It’s definitely a move on from the debut, but that was recorded over a whole year in various houses and the occasional studio in Manchester. We don’t like recording to get too expensive!”
Shape of the Shape came out in 2009 but what was the best thing to happen to you last year?
“We went to the US and played six shows out there, which was a great experience. Whilst in Chicago, we got to meet up with Dawson (from Locust) and his record collection. And we spent a week travelling around with Paul Metzger who is an inspirational musician and a comedy genius.”
Reviews have given your sound a range of labels including ‘gothic’, ‘country rock’, ‘hippy psychedelia’ and ‘70s folk rock’, but what did you grow up listening to and how has this influenced your music?
“Direct influences for all of us tend to be a whole range of things such as Pentangle, Stereolab, David Crosby, Edith Piaf, Cocteau Twins, Alvin Lucier, Brian Eno, and Johnny Marr. Therefore it all comes together in the form of songs that have quite a few familiar parts but are not necessarily obvious in as a whole. Some reviewers suggest we’re a bit prog but I’ve never got that – to me it’s really just verses and choruses with female vocals, country folk guitars, psychedelic synths, solid drums and bass. The 70s or 80s sound is because we’re not into perfecting or computerising the performances and we like to vary the sound a bit over a whole album.”
If you could cover any song what would it be and why?
“Something with some great chords and melodies. Probably ‘Django’ by John Lewis from the Milt Jackson Quartet or ‘Next Time’ Around by Sandy Denny.”
Are there any bands or records you’ve encountered recently that you think people should hear about?
“There’s so much great stuff out there. Amen Dunes, Paul Metzger, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, David A. Jaycock, Denis Jones, Dirty Projectors, and Beach House.”
What are you looking forward to in the rest of 2010?
“We’re planning on doing a bit of recording towards the summer and playing Bestival in September. We tend to be quite slow and take our time over things – why rush? It’s not a race! I reckon we’ll have another record out in 2011.”
Why should people listen to you if they haven’t already?
“Erm… to discover whether they want to listen to us again I suppose?”
Starless & Bible Black will be headlining Moseley Folk Festival’s monthly Lunar Society night on Friday 5th March with support from The Gardenelles and Beneath the Oak.